on from the bi-annual bunfight that is the announcement of the magazine
ABCs and all is numbers, percentages, spin and confusion. Indeed some
publishers are spinning so much they appear to have spun out of
control, while others are quoting more dodgy statistics than Eric
Morley at a Miss World final. So is it possible to distinguish the
winners from the losers, boozers and, in the case of the depressed
health sector, jacuzzi users?
One way of sniffing out a bona fide
success this time round is to check if a title has been launched by IPC
in the past 18 months, because it is behind three of last week’s star
Men’s weekly Nuts, real-life women’s weekly Pick Me Up and new TV listings mag TV Easy last week all posted big numbers.
launched 18 months ago, has now risen to sell more than 305,000 copies
a week. Pick Me Up and TV Easy both launched earlier this year and can
now claim astonishing debut circulations of 503,950 and 340,018
All set sail with multi-million pound marketing
budgets – £8m for Nuts, £5m for Pick Me Up and £10m for TV Easy – but
as others have proved, money is no guarantee of a soaraway circulation.
So what are we to make of their success?
First up, Nuts is doing
something new with old content. Girls, football and entertainment may
be men’s magazine staples, but what is different is that Nuts is
connecting with readers in the most direct, uncomplicated way.
last week’s issue a piece on comedian Peter Kay’s new comedy character
was headlined “Peter Kay’s new character!”, a look at the new FIFA 2006
football games was called “Best Football Game Ever!” and a shot of a
photographer’s arm after being bitten by a panda was – you’ve guessed
it – titled “Panda Bites Arm!”. Particularly impressive was how all
“bamboo shoot” gags were resisted by the subs, at least until the
Now, I doubt whether George Orwell would have bought
Nuts had it been around when he was writing about boys’ comics two
generations ago, but you never know. Had he had the chance, there is an
outside possibility, not much of one I agree, that he’d like what he
could see. Probably not Assess My Breasts or Real Girls Confess, nor
Street Strip Challenge (although the street element might have
appealed). But there is something in the directness of the appeal, the
simpleness of the proposition – even if it is to a different organ than
the brain – that the old boy might recognise.
Because, as all old
subs know, one of Orwell’s rules of good writing was to revisit every
sentence and then take out any word that could be removed without
changing the meaning. In the knockabout world of today’s mass-market
weeklies it seems Nuts is doing something similar with not just
sentences, but the whole magazine. And so is Pick Me Up and, indeed, TV
Easy, as, let’s face it, their names suggest.
The runaway success
of these magazines seems to mark a real change in what works with
today’s mass-market reader. In the men’s market, at least, it’s why he
is buying Nuts in droves (up 10.6 per cent period on period)n and to a
lesser extent Emap’s offering Zoo (up 8.4 per cent over the same
period) while turning his back on once highly successful monthlies
(which as a sector were down 5.5 per cent year on year).
today’s lad doesn’t want cleverdick headlines, smartarse sneering and
handtooled puns. They don’t want editors bunging up barriers to instant
enjoyment. They don’t want clever – or long – full stop. What they want
is what they get. Which in the case of Nuts is knockabout “news”,
straightforward sports coverage and lots and lots of pages of girls.
Even the chronically short-sighted could deduce as much from a glance
at its crystalclear contents spread. Which is the point.
complication and mediation are violently rejected. How far this is from
the Loaded era of the mid-90s, when in-jokes, relentless humour and
schoolboy surrealism were taken to be the engines that drove the sales
of the magazine.
Loaded, of course, has come back strongly
recently with a 7.7 per cent rise in its ABC to take it to 237,083.
But, aside from a price cut to £2.50, its success owes as much to the
lessons learnt on sister title Nuts as to recreating a bygone era.
Trying to recreate a magazine in the image of what worked 10 years ago
is as daft as the BBC trying to recommission Men Behaving Badly.
world has moved on and, sadly, for a generation of frustrated James
Browns who would love to live in a world where they could lay claim to
inventing the next Drop Me Bacon Sandwich, the 1990s are indeed long
gone. It is impossible to create not just the spirit of the times, but
that generation of consumers.
No surprise then that it’s
impossible to repeat those publishing tricks. Even James Brown has
failed to do it, much to many people’s surprise, not least, you
suspect, his own. To claim, as some do on the depressed men’s
monthlies, that their magazines are funnier than they used to be, is to
miss the point and ends up looking suspiciously like a load of old
flannel. And flannel that does nothing but cover up the modesty of
declining newsstand sales that are far worse than the headline ABC
In the mass-market funny matters, but not half
as much it used to. What matters is Ronseal rules. Does the magazine do
exactly what it says on the tin? Last week’s results prove the
importance of the Ronseal approach. Appropriate for a wood stain often
used on doors, it’s an open and shut case of the importance of stating
the bleeding obvious.
Tom Loxley was editor-in-chief of Maxim and Maxim Fashion Next week: Alex Thomson